Loss of Funds Cited in Deterioration of California Schools

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Sacramento, Calif--Cathy Golliher's seventh-grade health-science class in the Los Angeles Unified School District includes three or four mentally retarded children (some of whom are below average and others of whom are above average in their ability to learn), as well as students who have been "mainstreamed" from an English-as-a-second-language class.

Many in the latter group, the teacher told an education committee of the state Senate here this month, read and write English at the second- or third-grade level, "so, I'm dealing with virtually a one-room schoolhouse with this class."

Out-of-Date Materials

"But the only learning materials I have are for the seventh grade, and they are out of date," Ms. Golliher added. "I have nothing, unless I buy it with my own money, for those whose reading ability is far below the seventh-grade level."

"Due to Proposition 13," Ms. Golliher continued, "my department's budget was cut 50 percent, so I cannot provide a textbook for every student in my class. I even went to an educational-supply store last week and bought $111 worth of materials with my own money. And I probably won't be reimbursed because we don't have the money."

School 'Deterioration'

Ms. Golliher's testimony was one of many pieces of the graphic picture of the "deterioration" of California's public schools painted at the Feb. 10 committee hearing by teachers, school administrators, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, and even a bank official.

The purpose of the hearing, said Senator Alan Sieroty, Democrat of Los Angeles and chairman of the education committee, was "to tell the people about the current fiscal problems that confront their schools and the deterioration that has taken place in the classroom since 1978.''

"That message must get out to the public," he said.

Senator Sieroty pointed to California's precipitous tumble in the national ranking of states on several measures affecting education.

Once a leader in both financial support and quality of its education programs, he said, California now ranks 48th in the percent of personal income used to finance public schools, 24th in expenditure per pupil, and 49th in its pupil-teacher ratio. (The larger the average class size, the lower the rank.) The slide began, he suggested, in 1978 when Proposition 13 went into effect.

Although Proposition 13, which sharply reduced property taxes and thus local support for the state's schools, seemed to be the major target of criticism during the hearing, speakers also cited three other causes of the decline: inflation, decreasing enrollment, and federal budget cuts.

Education a Low Priority

And at a California School Boards Association meeting held in Sacramento the same day, two Republican members of the state legislature, Senator Kenneth Maddy of Fresno and Assemblyman Charles R. Imbrecht of Ventura, offered still another explanation for the problem: the low priority given to education by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. during his seven years in office.

They told school board members that while California's health and welfare budget has increased 225 percent since 1975, spending for education has increased only 83 percent--17 percent below inflation for that period.

While the two legislators detailed the lack of gubernatorial support for education, Ms. Golliher, in her testimony before the Senate hearing, elaborated on the "deteriorating" conditions she and her colleagues currently face in their classrooms.

In addition to the lack of appropriate learning materials, "we work in dirty classrooms," she said. "Floors are swept once or twice a week. Dirt is tracked in from the playground, and it stays there for days."

"I really don't think we want to expose our children to conditions like this," she added. "We wouldn't shop in markets and department stores that look like our classrooms."

"How do today's conditions compare with conditions five or ten years ago?" Senator Sieroty asked the teacher.

"Five years ago, my classroom was swept every day and we provided appropriate textbooks for every student," she replied.

Signs of Decay

Ms. Golliher pointed to other signs of decay in the Los Angeles schools. At Manual Arts High School, she said, students can no longer take Spanish IV to meet University of California entrance requirements. The course was dropped because only eight to 10 students enrolled. "The district cannot afford classes that small," she said. "We need 30 or more students in order to maintain a class."

The same thing is happening in other advanced subjects, including geometry, trigonometry, and specialized science classes, Ms. Golliher reported. In addition, she said, mathematics programs and, to a lesser extent, science programs are suffering from a lack of qualified teachers.

In order to provide teachers for mathematics courses now offered in Los Angeles schools, the district is issuing emergency math credentials (see related story on Page 4). "But that means we have teachers who are not as qualified as we'd like them to be," she said, blaming the shortage on the low salaries paid to educators.

The dimension of the problem confronting Los Angeles, she concluded, is shown by the large program reductions implemented by the district since Proposition 13 became law. Between the 1978-79 and the 1980-81 school years, the total reductions amounted to almost $120 million, while the total district budget grew from $1.3 billion in 1977-78 (the year Proposition 13 was enacted) to $1.5 billion for the 1981-82 session.

Dramatic Decline

Joan-Marie Shelley, a teacher at Lowell High School in San Francisco, told the committee that the number of course offerings at her school, too, declined dramatically after Proposition 13 went into effect.

Literature classes dropped from 32 in 1978-1979 to five in 1979-1980, she said. In the same period, Lowell was also forced to drop 19 creative-arts courses, six social-science and foreign-language courses, four mathematics courses, and two science courses.

"The colleges and universities are asking California schools to provide more English, science, and math at the same time we are forced to provide less," Ms. Shelley told the senate committee.

Following the two teachers' statements, Shirley Hufstedler, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and now a lecturer at Stanford University Law School, addressed the legislators. "We are in the course ... of abandoning our children ... in terms of their education," she said, indicating that similar trends can be seen in most other states across the country.

In her testimony, Ms. Hufstedler deplored efforts by the Reagan Administration to "destroy" the U.S. Department of Education and to "gut" federal education programs. She pointed out that Los Angeles County schools now enroll students who speak 104 native languages (though district officials use a somewhat lower figure).

"What is going to happen if we don't meet the needs of these children?" she asked.

Conrad Jamison, an urban economist and a vice-president of Security Pacific National Bank, testified on the results of a study he conducted "before and after" Proposition 13.

"It tells a dramatic story," he said. "Before Proposition 13, taxes in California were rising faster than in any other state, thus providing some justification for public outrage. Now," he added, "we've gone to the other extreme."

Before the tax initiative was enacted, Mr. Jamison said, California spent from 1 percent to 4 percent more for education than the national average; in its wake, the state has been spending 10 percent below the national average.

As a result of Proposition 13, he continued, revenue to public schools from property taxes dropped 58 percent and state support increased 86 percent.

The result, he asserted, was a startling reversal of roles: The share of school support from property taxes fell from 50 percent to 19 percent and the state's share rose from 42 percent to 72 percent.

"Our school districts are now almost entirely dependent on the state for financial support," Wilson C. Riles, state superintendent of schools, told the Senate committee.

Mr. Riles followed that testimony with more bad news the following day, when he publicly spelled out what President Reagan's proposed budget reductions would mean for California's schools.

Calling the cutbacks "devastating," the superintendent told the monthly meeting of the state board of education that thousands of California children would be dropped from programs now meeting their special needs: 6,000 from special education, 70,000 from bilingual education, and 200,000 from programs for disadvantaged children.

The Senate education committee was scheduled to hear further testimony on financing quality education early last week.

Vol. 01, Issue 22

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